Tag Archives: Bhumi Pednekar

Movie Review: Durgamati (2020)

1 Star (out of 4)

Watch Durgamati: The Myth on Amazon Prime

Durgamati: The Myth‘s intriguing first half is undone by its messy, twist-happy conclusion.

Writer-director G. Ashok stuck closely to the premise of his 2018 bilingual film Bhaagamathie for this Hindi remake. Bhumi Pednekar takes over the role of an imperiled bureaucrat from Anuskha Shetty.

Pednekar plays civil servant Chanchal Chauhan. Her long association with the squeaky-clean politician Ishwar Prasad (Arshad Warsi) brings her to the attention of the Central Bureau of Investigations. The CBI has been tasked with finding dirt on Prasad because his righteousness is making his fellow politicians look bad. Prasad has promised to leave the country in fifteen days if he can’t find the culprits who’ve been stealing ancient idols from remote village temples — a high standard other politicians don’t want to be held to.

Chanchal is an easy target because she’s in prison awaiting trial for killing her fiance Shakti (Karan Kapadia) — a crime that seems out of character from what little we know about her. Shakti’s vengeful brother Abhay (Jisshu Sengupta) is the police chief responsible for Chanchal’s safety after the CBI moves her to an abandoned palace in the jungle. Locals believe the mansion is haunted, so there’s no chance of anyone interrupting the CBI’s illegal interrogation.

Before Partition, the palace was the home of Queen Durgamati, known for merciless treatment of her enemies. Chanchal is locked in the mansion alone, only brought out during the day for fruitless questioning by CBI Director Satakshi Ganguly (Mahie Gill). Night after night, unseen forces torment Chanchal, psychologically and physically. A psychiatrist and a holy man disagree on the cause of the problem, but one thing is clear: Chanchal is not safe in Durgamati’s palace.

It’s hard to talk about any of the events after this point in the story without getting into spoiler territory. But we can examine what’s happened so far for indications of the kinds of problems that turn the ending into a total circus.

Take the plan to move Chanchal to the palace. The isolation is a selling point, but the mansion is huge and would be difficult to secure. It likely has numerous servants’ exits and other means of egress, but Abhay’s police team padlocks the front gate and calls it a day. Chanchal stays in the mansion alone, while the two cops assigned to guard her sleep in a shack beyond the gate. (The officers periodically get comic side bits that don’t fit the tone of the film at all.) Abhay has cameras installed in the mansion — hard to see how since the layers of dust inside are undisturbed and all the police are too scared to enter — but he doesn’t put one in Chanchal’s bedroom. No one from Satakshi’s CBI team sticks around to monitor the camera feeds overnight anyway. Chanchal could sneak out, and no one would be the wiser until morning.

The point of all this is that director Ashok wanted to use the palace setting no matter what, without thinking through all of the problems the setting presented. This inattention to detail gets worse as the story progresses, diffusing the sense of mystery built in the first half. Events happen for the sake of dramatic twists, and not because they would logically happen that way. Many of the solutions provided aren’t hinted at beforehand, but rather conjured as if by magic.

Gill and Sengupta are careful not to overplay their characters, both of whom undergo some welcome growth. Pednekar and Warsi are good in the parts of the script that allow them to be, less so in the moments that would have been hard for anyone to make convincing.

Throughout the film, elaborate plans like the palace interrogation scheme hinge on characters behaving in very specific ways. When a whole plan could come unraveled if one person makes an unexpected choice, says the wrong thing, or steps in the wrong direction, it strains credulity. Durgamati isn’t detail-oriented enough to be believable.

Links

[Disclaimer: my Amazon links include an affiliate tag, and I may earn a commission on purchases made via those links. Thanks for helping to support this website!]

Movie Review: Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare (2020)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare on Netflix

Anemic character development undercuts Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare‘s (“Dolly, Kitty, and Those Twinkling Stars“) ambitions to be a movie about something important. Many important things, really.

The film opens so abruptly that I thought I’d accidentally fast-forwarded through the film’s real opening scene. Within the first three minutes, Kaajal (Bhumi Pednekar) confesses to her cousin Dolly (Konkona Sen Sharma) that Dolly’s husband Amit (Aamir Bashir) hit on her. Dolly dismisses Kaajal’s claim, saying maybe it’s Kaajal who’s hot for Amit. Roll opening credits.

This major family conflict is set up before we’ve learned anything about the characters involved. We don’t know who they are, what their relationships were like before this, or what this means for them going forward.

Without giving us any reason to care about these characters, the story launches them into an escalating series of circumstances to which they must react. Kaajal moves out, but she can only find a bed in a charity boarding house for unwed mothers. There she befriends a Muslim party girl named Shazia (Kubbra Sait from Sacred Games) whose boyfriend’s brother leads a far right Hindu-nationalist gang. Kaajal gets a job as a phone sex operator for an online app — a job that grosses her out since she has zero romantic experience — where she’s given the nickname “Kitty.”

Meanwhile, Dolly is enduring workplace gender bias in order to earn a down payment for a newly built luxury apartment (even though it should be obvious to her that the builders are running some kind of racket). Her marriage with Amit is sexually unfulfilling, and she develops a crush on a cute delivery driver names Osman (Amol Parashar). Also, Dolly’s youngest son Pappu (Kalp Shah) is starting to assert a gender identity that is more feminine than masculine.

The movie presents Dolly and Kaajal with plenty of challenges, but it doesn’t establish a real narrative or explain how the characters need to grow before the story ends. Including as many social justice issues as possible — Kaajal is also threatened with sexual assault by strangers and acquaintances multiple times — takes precedence over plot and character development.

Kaajal is written as so naive and devoid of personality that she seems like she sprung into being just before the movie begins. We can see how Dolly has been shaped by her circumstances, but they seem to have mostly made her mean. She hits Kaajal more than once, and she beats Pappu so seriously after he tries to use the girls’ bathroom at school that it’s difficult to watch.

Sen Sharma and Pednekar give intriguing performances as always, as does Vikrant Massey as a client who uses Kitty’s app. The subplot between Dolly and Osman is compelling and enjoyable. There just wasn’t enough to the characters in Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare to truly connect with them

Links

  • Dolly Kity Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare at Wikipedia
  • Dolly Kity Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare at IMDb

Movie Review: Saand Ki Aankh (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

The real-life women who inspired Saand Ki Aankh (“Bull’s Eye“) are extraordinary, but the film about their lives is less so, because the actresses who play them are miscast. That isn’t to say that thirty-somethings Taapsee Pannu and Bhumi Pednekar are bad in their roles. They’re just not convincing playing women in their sixties.

The main factor that keeps the movie from being immersive is that the “old lady” makeup and hair coloring applied to Pannu and Pednekar throughout looks absurd. It’s impossible not to notice it. Their temporary gray hair dye isn’t applied realistically and seems like something that you’d find at a Halloween store, meant to be sprayed on in the morning and washed out at night (if it hasn’t all flaked off by then). The same dye looks especially bad when painted onto Pednekar’s eyebrows. The texture of their face makeup might be passable for a stage performance, but it doesn’t holdup under the gaze of a movie camera.

Pannu and Pednekar play Prakashi and Chandro Tomar, respectively, two sisters-in-law living in a village in Uttar Pradesh in 1999. Their crowded household is shared by their husbands, children, and grandchildren, and governed by their husband’s older brother, Rattan Singh Tomar (Prakash Jha), along with his own wife and offspring.

All of the other performers in Saand Ki Aankh play characters their own age, with Rattan and his brothers played by younger actors in the film’s few flashbacks. Pannu and Pednekar are the only constants, further drawing attention to the age difference between the actresses and their characters. Given how brief the flashbacks are, there’s no logical explanation for why actresses aged closer to sixty weren’t cast in these roles.

Prakashi and Chandro have toiled for decades on behalf of their family: cooking, cleaning, stacking bricks, and each birthing eight children while their husbands lounge about. When Dr. Yashpal (Vineet Kumar Singh) opens a shooting range, promising government jobs to those who excel, the boys in the Tomar family scoff at the notion of working for a living. But Prakashi and Chandro recognize a chance for their granddaughters to break out of the stifling patriarchal system and chart their own destinies.

Secretly, Chandro brings her granddaughter Shefali (Sara Arjun) to the range, while Prakashi accompanies her daughter Seema (Pritha Bakshi). To encourage the two girls, the older ladies take their turns firing, only to discover that they are naturals. Dr. Yashpal convinces Chandro and Prakashi to enter a shooting tournament for seniors. In order to compete, they have to trick their husbands and brother-in-law into letting them travel to the city — no easy feat since Rattan’s strict rules for women includes veiling their faces even inside the house. The ladies pull off the ruse and win the tournament, starting their careers as clandestine sharpshooters.

For all its faults, Saand Ki Aankh is very clear about who Chandro and Prakashi are and what motivates them. They are housewives, and even after they taste success, they don’t expect more from life. When the husband of a fellow shooter talks about how proud he is of is wife, the sisters-in-law can barely understand how that’s possible. They accept that there is nothing they could accomplish that would make their husbands feel proud of them. They can only meet expectations or face potential violence for failing to do so.

It’s refreshing that, even though the story is inspiring, inspiration was never the goal of the characters. Everything Chandro and Prakashi do is for the betterment of the lives of their daughters and granddaughters.

Saand Ki Aankh‘s structuring is awkward, which is unfortunate, since this is the directorial debut of experienced screenwriter Tushar Hiranandani. Though Hiranandani didn’t write this script (which is credited to Balwinder Singh Janjua), perhaps he could have given it a final polish to reorganize it a bit. The film’s opening sequence — which repeats after about an hour when the story catches up to it chronologically — is overly long and not attention-grabbing enough to warrant a double take. Shefali serves as the off-screen narrator for a few random scenes, so it would’ve made more sense to open with her narration and use it consistently throughout. Trimming at least half-an-hour off the overall runtime would’ve helped, too.

The Tomar sisters-in-law have certainly lived lives worth making into a movie. I just wish this one was a little better.

Links

Movie Review: Shubh Mangal Saavdhan (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at Amazon or iTunes

First Vicky Donor, and now Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. Ayushmann Khurrana is the go-to actor for reproduction-themed romantic comedies.

Khurrana plays a shy ad-man named Mudit who has his eye on Sugandha (Bhumi Pednekar). His initial attempt to talk to her is interrupted when a performing bear tries humping Mudit’s leg, a comical introduction to the movie’s theme of frustrated sexual congress.

The couple winds up in a kind of hybrid love-marriage/arranged-marriage scenario in which their mutual attraction requires the approval of both families. Sugandha is troubled by her family’s desire to rush her to the altar: “Mummy, Mudit and I just met a few days ago.” “What a time you’re living in,” Mummy (Seema Bhargava Pahwa) replies. “At least you two got to meet.”

The addition of these interested parties into the relationship takes its toll on the couple before their romance can really begin. When Sugandha’s family leaves town, the lovebirds seize the opportunity to get frisky. Yet the pressure for things to go well — under the watchful gaze of portraits of Sugandha’s departed grandparents, no less — leave Mudit unable to perform.

Rather than work the problem out between themselves, Mudit insists that he solve his issue his way, enlisting his two buddies for help and freezing out Sugandha. This leaves her blaming herself for the issue, with her equally inexperienced friend Ginni (Anshul Chauhan) her only support.

The real source of trouble for the couple is their unwillingness to talk to each other, which is an unusual problem to have in a movie as dialogue-heavy as Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. Many words are said with little forward plot movement and not a lot of visual dynamism.

That said, Sugandha’s mom gets plenty of funny lines, especially during a sex-ed lecture to her adult daughter themed around Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. “What happens if Ali Baba can’t get into the cave?” Sugandha wonders aloud. Soon enough everyone in both families knows that Mudit can’t get an erection.

Although geared at an audience old enough to understand the ins and outs of human reproduction, Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is sweet and not overly graphic. Khurrana is adorable, and Pednekar beautifully portrays Sugandha’s self-doubt and frustration throughout the couple’s ordeal.  The film just needed less talking and more action (and get rid of Jimmy Shergill’s awkward cameo, please).

Links

Movie Review: Toilet — Ek Prem Katha (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Buy the DVD at Amazon
Buy the soundtrack at iTunes

Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (“Toilet: A Love Story“) has its heart in the right place, using humor and romance to address a social problem often deemed too private for public discussion. It falls short in a number of ways, with some issues that are particularly problematic for non-Hindi speakers.

Akshay Kumar plays Keshav, a small-town guy whose love life is held hostage by his extremely religious father, Panditji (Sudhir Pandey), who sees all kinds of problems in his son’s astrological chart. Keshav’s desire to marry takes on a new urgency when he meets Jaya (Bhumi Pednekar), a feisty and principled college student.

(I was prepared to give major kudos to the movie for acknowledging that the character played by 49-year-old Kumar is not only old for a bachelor but significantly older than his lady-love. Then it’s revealed that Keshav is 36, making the age difference between him and college gal Jaya less than the twenty-one years separating Kumar and Pednekar in real life.)

The lovebirds trick Panditji into allowing them to marry, only to discover an even bigger problem: Keshav’s house doesn’t have a bathroom. Jaya discovers this when a group of ladies rap on her window in the pre-dawn hours following her wedding night, urging her to follow them into the fields, lest she miss her only opportunity to relieve herself all day.

Toilet‘s most laudable quality is that it forces viewers who are used to readily accessible bathroom facilities to confront the practicalities of how life works without such access. For those of us who don’t leave the house without knowing the location of the nearest public loo, Toilet depicts a nightmare scenario that is a daily reality for hundreds of millions of people in India.

Jaya’s demand that Keshav install a toilet in their home is met with resistance on multiple fronts, from Keshav’s “what’s the big deal?” indifference to anger from neighbors who see her demand as an attack upon their culture. This is where Toilet‘s ability to connect with an international audience falters.

For everyone like Jaya who grew up with a full bathroom in the home — whether in India or abroad — the benefits are obvious. Not only do bathrooms improve cleanliness and provide privacy, they are safer for women. Jaya’s father (played by Atul Srivastava) mentions instances of women being raped and killed while relieving themselves in fields, and having a toilet in the home is a simple way to protect his daughter.

The case against having an in-home toilet is harder to explain to Western viewers, and Toilet doesn’t do a particularly good job in doing so. Some of the resistance — particularly from the village women — is a matter of pride, Jaya’s demand taken as evidence of snobbishness born from too much education. There are also religious considerations cited by the village elders that may be well-known within India but aren’t explained sufficiently for those unfamiliar with the precedent.

In fact, when one of the village elders quotes scripture as evidence, his words are subtitled as “[Sanskrit chant].” The same subtitle is applied when Keshav counters with his own verse. This problem occurs again during a song whose lyrics are translated as just “[folk song],” and written Hindi isn’t transcribed at all. These omissions put up barriers for non-Hindi speakers.

It’s hard to get a sense of who the intended audience for Toilet is. If it’s middle-class city dwellers, Toilet does little to foster empathy for rural folk resistant to the idea of public or private toilets. If it’s those same rural folk, Toilet feels like more of a protracted scolding than a persuasive case for modernization. Even in the film, the villagers violently reject Keshav’s efforts to build a loo for Jaya — until they suddenly don’t.

Keshav is an interesting character when considered in terms of the present political climate in India and in democracies in the West. He doesn’t initially have strong convictions; he just wants everyone to stop fighting so things can return to the way they were. It takes Jaya moving back in with her parents for Keshav to realize that this issue is non-negotiable for her, regardless of her affection for him. Only through suffering consequences of his own is he able to understand the injustice that the status quo forces upon women.

Kumar and Pednekar are both terrific in Toilet, adorable during the story’s romantic phase and heartbreaking as their situation grows more desperate. Divyendu Sharma is also very good as Keshav’s brother, Naru. Too bad the movie overall can’t match the strength of its cast.

Links